BOGOTA – The Colombian left wing rebel organisation Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has said to have ordered an end to purchasing arms. The decision has been viewed as step towards lasting peace with the Colombian government.

FARC’s leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, more commonly known as Timochenko, said that he had given the order in September. It comes on the back of a de-escalation from both sides including FARC’s ceasefire and the government ceasing their aerial bombing. FARC has been known to finance its struggle against the government through crime such as kidnapping, extortion, drug trading and illegal mining.

FARC has been the most prominent guerrilla group fighting against the government in an ongoing civil conflict. At its height, many believed that Colombia would become a ‘failed state’. The conflict has resulted in an estimated 3 million internally displaced people and over 200,000 people have been thought to be killed since fighting started in the 1960’s.

Negations have been taking place in Havana, Cuba for over three years with a final peace agreement to be reached in March 2016. Importantly, the peace negotiations do not include other anti-government groups who have been involved in the conflict such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), who are currently also undertaking peace negotiations with the government.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s time in office has been remembered thus far by the positive moves towards a peace deal. He announced on Thursday that Colombia’s population will vote on a FARC peace deal in either May or June next year.

The long term goal is that FARC will give up their violent armed struggle and instead join the legitimate legal and political process. So far, both sides have come to agreements on areas such as agricultural development reform, FARC’s future political participation and the illicit drug trade.

However, the negotiations have stalled on some of the more difficult issues of being able to trade off justice for past crimes in return for ongoing peace. Many Colombians are of the view that FARC leaders who were responsible for war crimes are being punished very leniently. Santos governments’ argument is that if they had pushed for jailing FARC leaders, then moves the positive gains towards peace would not have happened.

Transitional justice agreements so far stipulate that many would avoid jail time if they confess to a truth commission and assume responsibility for their crimes. Instead, alternative penalties would be offered such as community work and the clean-up of land mines.

The compensation of victims of the conflict has also been a key issue at the negotiations. With FARC supporters maintaining that the government’s record in relation to human rights abuses is in no way clean. It seems that both sides of the conflict and indeed the Colombian population as a whole must be willing to accept small trade-offs in justice and retribution for the goal of lasting peace and stability.

 – Michael McDermott, Correspondent (Latin America)